Sweet Nothings

Arthur Schnitzler, in a version by David Harower
Young Vic

Production photo

Arthur Schnitzler is best known for a masterpiece, La Ronde that became The Blue Room, though the publicity material tells us that he also wrote the work that became Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.

David Harrower has now created a modern version of another fin de siècle Viennese tale of passion, which turns into a play of two halves in Luc Bondy's imaginatively staged production.

Bondy and his designer Karl-Ernst Herrmann present the drama on a circular platform raised about five feet above the ground, intermittently revolving and then almost imperceptibly.

Before the interval, this is the colourful, untidy apartment of Tom Hughes' Fritz, a handsome if anguished young rake with a conscience.

For the second half, it is turned into the chaste, white bedroom of his devoted teenage love Christine, played by Kate Burdette.

The plot is deceptively simple. Fritz and his wild comrade, Jack Laskey's infuriating Theodore, party with sweet Christine and her more worldly wise friend Mitzi, played with deft skill by Anne Boleyn from The Tudors, Natalie Dormer.

The high octane sex scene is just reaching a peak when a mysterious stranger arrives, turning everyone's world upside down.

He is the husband of a woman with whom Fritz is two-timing Christine and the only solution for her honourable lover is that favourite Viennese pastime, a duel.

So far so good, as the time races by in the style on which the playwright built his risqué reputation.

After the break, the maudlin deserted young girl somehow senses her fate and reacts with extreme consequences. The pacing slows and while Miss Burdette bears her soul in a deeply felt performance, we learn little that is meaningful other than the fact that young love is often unrequited and its loss hurts like hell.

To intensify the atmosphere in this phase, Herrmann presents a wide range of often highly affecting lighting changes, while the music becomes as anachronistic as some of the language, eventually favouring jazz.

By the end, you just wish that David Sibley as her morose father, a prim family friend played with exemplary disapproval by Hayley Carmichael or anyone else would slap the hysterical young woman.

Surely this is all that would be required to bring back her senses before she loses them forever over a man who cared for her but only as a second choice?

In conclusion, there is some worthy acting and the production looks good but the plot feels dated and it is hard to be persuaded that Sweet Nothings is worth the effort that has gone into its revival.

Playing until 10 April

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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